"I thought you loved me."
He wonders if he truly is the most insensitive idiot in the world.
Run. Jump. Shoot.
"You were no different."
"Well," she chuckles. "Well, I thought I was. But that's high school."
A lot of things happened in high school (the truth is, they never stopped happening). For a moment he feels a pang of guilt. What did she feel when she realized how he felt? Did she cry? How many people, exactly, cried for him? Oh, of course he didn't care before. But tears are tears. And now it's a lot harder to ignore—
7:34pm. His lights were blinding, the cheers for him deafening. Her darkness was blinding, the thudding of her heart deafening. Then the last minute. His heart was beating fast, hers wasn't beating at all.
He instinctively grabs a pill, forever residing in even in his jersey pocket. Emergencies only. 'Just one,' he swears. 'She's right here in front of me.'
"I don't love anyone."
She breathes in. "I don't want to lose you both. I just don't know if…if I can. Can you stop dribbling for a while?"
His eyes widen immediately, but he doesn't stop. The world is shaking, and the only perpetual thing is this—
Run. Jump. Shoot.
But it's different now. There is a raging fervour, a running current, a ticking time bomb.
"I thought maybe it wasn't basketball, maybe it was me—"
"Shut up," his voice is quiet, the type of quiet that makes her shiver. Yet she refuses to back down.
"You hate yourself," it is more of a realization than an accusation. "You're starting to hate basketball, too."
He is iron. He is fighting. But some battles are lost before they are fought. Rukawa lets go of the ball and drops to the polished ground. He takes his face in both hands.
She sits down right beside him. "I don't know if she can be saved. And I'm not sure whether she's the only one who needs saving," Ayako murmurs.
"I saved you guys some manju. I made some for my grandma's birthday," a slightly garbled voice speaks to the room.
"Man, if they're half as wicked as the ones you made in the last company party, I'll be the one greeting you at the door," Mitsui licks his lips at the thought. Miyagi glances at him, then at his wife, who is staring hard at the machine.
"Food? Are we talking about food?"
"I realize that it is the only language you speak, Sakuragi."
"Shuddup, Mit-chi. You've been indulging in Megane-kun's cooking for years, why don't you give us a chance—"
"Sakuragi Hanamichi," Ayako's reproaching prelude is very reminiscent of the high school version. Mitsui dares a look at her direction. "Are you seriously more excited in tasting Kogure-san's cooking more than seeing him? Because, you know, you haven't seen him in almost a decade."
A kind laugh tinkers through the speakers. "Glad to see you haven't changed, Sakuragi-kun."
"A lot of us have," Ayako says mildly. Miyagi fixes his stare out the window, into the black night. Mitsui freezes. "Come home, Kogure-san."
Kogure's smile can almost be heard from the other line. "Sure. I'll see you guys soon."
The line goes dead. The prevailing silence remains unbroken for a minute.
All four jump at the sound of the doorbell ringing.
"I'll get that. You guys go to the dining room," Mitsui recovers first.
The host gets up, shaking off the tension in his veins. He reaches for the knob, and is caught by surprise by the sight of his trembling hand. He closes his eyes and breathes in deeply, opening the door.
When he opens his eyes, blue and blue meet.
"How's it going, Mr. NBA?" Miyagi slaps Rukawa's back. The latter doesn't answer, either because of his taciturn nature or the fact that Miyagi just slapped all the air out of his lungs. He takes the empty seat beside Ayako, and Miyagi takes his on her other side. Mitsui sits right across, flanked by Sakuragi and Kogure, who arrives right before Mitsui closes the door behind Rukawa.
"Living the high life, huh? Don't you dare get all haughty on us, Rukawa. We did pretty well, too." Mitsui smirks.
"And my work requires a lot of lifting and running, so my muscles got even bigger than they were. Not that yours were ever bigger," Sakuragi chimes in, chest puffed out.
Rukawa doesn't know how he feels. But tonight is a lot less hollow than the usual. "Do'ahou."
"You know, I didn't exactly expect an ingrate like you to come visit us every now and then, but the occasional call would've been nice. Next thing we knew, you're in Boston and married!"
Sakuragi turns to Rukawa in utter shock.
Without noticing the sudden pressure in the room, Miyagi rowdily adds, "Where's she, huh? Don't tell me that you're hiding her from us so we can't tell her what an asshole you were back in high school?"
"She's not here," Ayako cuts in curtly. "But we all are, and I have to say that Nikujaga is reminding me how hungry I am."
Mitsui sweeps in smoothly. "Let's dig in, idiots."
With a raised eyebrow, Miyagi scoops his first bowl of rice. Sakuragi follows suit. Conspicuously, Ayako herself doesn't make a move, only stares at her empty bowl. Inconspicuously, Rukawa taps three pills out, and takes it to his mouth is a swift move.
It is unmistakable, the chill in Miyagi's usually good-natured tone, matching the cold of the night. Mitsui isn't sure what he has been hoping for when he stepped out alone. Maybe it's even this.
"Should I be worried?" At this, Mitsui sharply turns to him. But there is no hostility in either of them. Miyagi scoffs at himself and looks towards the night sky. "God, I did not just say that."
Mitsui does not speak because he's afraid he knows the answer.
"You didn't know of our wedding and the truth is I didn't want to invite you because…" They both know what comes next. Miyagi tries again. "I really was an idiot, wasn't I?"
The shorter man offers his hand. "So. This is how you white-collar shitheads do this?"
Mitsui stares at the hand. He dazedly grasps it with his own.
"I guess this…" Miyagi cringes. "Love triangle thing finally gets shut in kingdom high school, where it belongs."
Both Mitsui and Miyagi completely forget that there's no triangle without a third side.
The light of dawn streams gently through the window. She slowly opens her eyes and takes in the leaping dash of green and white rushing by. She doesn't know where she is. At times like this, she forgets how to think straight. So she counts.
2 years since she has last seen the sun-tanned skin and shining brown eyes and the small hand in hers, soft and utterly breakable.
3, 4, 5…
He must be five years old now.
6, 7, 8…
8 years since she last recognized the face looking back at her in the mirror.
10 days since she has last looked at the picture. She could almost see red hair everywhere.
"Morning, love," a deep voice whispers. She turns to the driving Yanagi. As if grateful for a wish granted, Haruko drinks in the sight of flame-red hair whipping out behind her.